Dread Central’s coverage of all things Hill House Comics is continuing, with a special chat with writer Carmen Maria Machado and artist Dani about their series, The Low Low Woods (currently available via Hill House/DC Comics). The series, involving two girls coming of age in a town full of grotesquely dark secrets, is one of Hill House’s standout comics, giving its readers a dark and beautiful look at what it is to become yourself while also dealing with the horrors of the world. We talked with Carmen and Dani about bringing such an important genre story to life, so read on!
Dread Central: Hill House comics is such a fresh, exciting imprint. The output has been phenomenal. How did your involvement and in turn, The Low Low Woods come to be?
Carmen Maria Machado: The folks at DC (and Vertigo—RIP) reached out and said they were fans and wanted to know if I had a project to pitch them. So I dug through my files and found some notes for an as-yet-unwritten project. I had setting notes and character notes and a very loose plot and premise. So, I turned them into a pitch. The rest is history.
Dani: At first I was asked from the folks at DC if I would like to work on a horror book written by Carmen Maria Machado and even if I didn’t know further details about the series yet, that name was enough for me to say YES! Then we got into more details and the more I knew about the story the more I got excited!
DC: Did DC and Joe Hill give you free rein to do whatever you wanted to do, story-wise, or did you have to adhere to a set tone or mood with where you wanted to take your story and art?
CMM: I had complete control! DC and Joe Hill were incredibly supportive. They gave me notes and feedback when I needed it, but otherwise let me do whatever I wanted. (Which is how I work best.)
DC: The world in which your story exists is so entrancing. Shudder-To-Think is a town with secrets and the inhabitants are all over the place as far as being larger than life, in a visual sense. The art is just beautiful. What inspired that direction and look for the book?
CMM: I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania and spent a lot of time in towns like Shudder-to-Think. I also was obsessed with Centralia—a real-life town in Pennsylvania that’s been on fire for decades and is now abandoned—like every wannabe-goth teen in Pennsylvania. And it was just the perfect setting for the story I wanted to tell.
D: Shudder-To-Think is indeed a strange place and its inhabitants weird and unique characters. Carmen provided the whole team with a visual guide of a collage of pictures and photos she had found on the internet. It was helpful so as to get into her brain a bit more and is really interesting because I tend to do the same thing whenever I’m working on new characters and building worlds for a book.
My art style is already quite dark with heavy splashes of ink so I just unleashed it on the pages -I had some wonderful material to work on and some amazingly dreamy colors from Tamra Bonvillain on top to complete all the visuals of the book. Also I got really inspired from Sam Wolfe Connelly’s art who is our wonderful cover artist and I truly appreciate as a creator.
DC: The Low Low Woods does such a great job of not only being a very entertaining and powerful book on the surface but there are definitely some really great things going on as far as subtext. Was that a decision right from the beginning? Dani, it’s easy to see why you’d want to tackle the art for the book, what Machado has done with the story is so easy to latch onto. Was there a particular jumping in point that made you say, “I NEED TO WORK ON THIS!” ?
D: The Low, Low Woods is not your average horror book. It has the good qualities of horror, a genre that I absolutely love, but it also has some other characteristics which are really important to me, both as a creator and as a human being. The girls might have been through a really bad and stigmatizing experience, everything is so vague, and they are kind of lost. Discovering the truth with them and taking back their broken pieces is an empowering journey I’m happy to do with them. Also, weird-deerwoman-creature!
CMM: I knew body horror was going to be involved from the first moment. If you’re a teenage girl, your life is body horror. So it only makes sense.
DC: A story is only as good as its characters and El & Octavia are two awesome ones. How did these great characters come to life? Were they around in your heads prior to breaking the story, or did their journey coincide with planning what you wanted to do with it?
CMM: It was sort of half-and-half. I had them loosely sketched out beforehand, and their personalities also took shape as I wrote the scripts.
D: El & Octavia are awesome indeed! Visually, I worked on Carmen’s descriptions of them and created some photo collages of people, clothes, characters etc. that led me to these character designs. Drawing them in the pages though is what made them really come to life for me. This is where, working with Carmen’s script, I got to develop their expressions and body language and discover their relationship. I’m really glad I’ve met these girls!